This three-time Grammy Award-winning Jazz drummer has been described as “the personification of Black Girl Magic,” by the AP News. After years of playing alongside Jazz royalty like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Carrington has reached the pinnacle of Jazz excellence in her own career as a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters fellow. Along with her band Social Science, she’s stepping out from behind the drums to be a leader in the social and gender justice movements.
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Terri Lyne Carrington
“She is the personification of Black Girl Magic.”
“The end of the Jazz patriarchy.”
At age 11, Terri Lyne Carrington was anointed by Jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson when she jammed onstage with Peterson. One attendee—the then-President of Berklee College of Music—was so wowed he offered Carrington a scholarship.
With a grandfather and father who were musicians, Carrington grew up with Jazz around her. She started her professional career in Massachusetts at ten years old when she became the youngest person to receive a Boston Musicians’ Association union card and played her first professional gig with Clark Terry (becoming his regular drummer in 1983).
Carrington moved to New York City in the 1980s, quickly emerging as an in-demand drummer. In 1989, she moved to Los Angeles, where she gained recognition on late night television as the house drummer for both the Arsenio Hall Show and Quincy Jones’ VIBE TV show. Her debut Grammy-nominated album, Real Life Story, was released in 1989 also.
Her recognition by Jazz royalty continued when she toured with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock for much of the 1990s.
“She’s one of the finest drummers in the world,” says Wayne Shorter, “She has a lot of finesse. She decorates. And she can also drop some bombs.”
While pursuing a solo career, her recording history involves a complex and inventive merging of Jazz with other styles, such as funk-fusion and rhythm-and-blues, and her recording projects involve many of the artists with whom she has worked previously. Her album The Mosaic Project featured a cast of all-star women instrumentalists and vocalists, including Geri Allen, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Esperanza Spalding. Her next recording was a radical revision of the 1963 recording Money Jungle by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. She won Grammy Awards for both albums, including Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Money Jungle, the first woman to win in this category. In 2019, she continued her experiments in genre-blending with a political undercurrent on Waiting Game, a triple-crown winner of the Downbeat Critics polls.
Carrington is a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award recipient. This award is the highest form or recognition for the Jazz field by the United States government.
She worked as a musical and cultural consultant on the hit Disney/Pixar animation “Soul,” making sure it portrayed the Jazz world accurately. And she’s the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and has spent nearly 16 years teaching at the college. Appropriately, Jazz Thing called Carrington, “the end of the Jazz patriarchy.”
When asked by Jazzwise to describe the Jazz world’s attitude towards gender, Carrington said, “antiquated, archaic… That’s not everybody but it’s the overall narrative, the system that we’ve all participated in, men and women. There’s been an unwritten narrative that men play music and women sing it. Sprinkled in you have these women who played instruments, but there were far more women that did play that were not supported in the same way and many women that wanted to but didn’t because it was too difficult. It’s hard enough learning how to play the music. Having these extra obstacles often makes you not want to do it.”
Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science
“A slow-Funk project rooted in the rhetoric of protest.”
The New York Times
“A gritty and politically charged hybrid of Jazz, Rock, Rap and R&B… Undeniably music as social activism – sometimes tough and uncompromising, bristling with elusive grooves, but also glinting with a kind of dark beauty.”
The Sydney Morning Herald
Galvanized by seismic changes in the ever-evolving social and political landscape, Terri Lyne Carrington and her band Social Science confront a wide spectrum of social justice issues. The band’s stunning double disc debut, Waiting Game, released in 2019, immediately took its place in the stirring lineage of politically conscious and activist music, expressing an unflinching, inclusive, and compassionate view of humanity’s breaks and bonds. Waiting Game is as thought-provoking and artistically evocative as it is musically exhilarating. Produced by Carrington and built around her friendship and collaboration with co-producers, pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens, and additional band members Morgan Guerin (bass & sax), Debo Ray (vocals) and Kassa Overall (MC/DJ), the album features a diverse ensemble that spans multiple generations, racial, ethnic, sexual and gender identities. The band states: “Along with a message of wakefulness, inclusiveness, and noncompliance, we’ve summoned our musical influences to offer an eclectic alternative to the mainstream. Music transcends, breaks barriers, strengthens us, and heals old wounds. Music is Social Science.”
The subjects addressed on Waiting Game run the gamut of social concerns: mass incarceration (“Trapped in the American Dream,” featuring Kassa Overall’s bold rap); police brutality (“Bells [Ring Loudly]),” intoned by actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner); homophobia (“Pray The Gay Away,” featuring Nicholas Payton’s impassioned horn); the genocide of indigenous Americans (“Purple Mountains,” featuring Kokayi); political imprisonment (“No Justice [for political prisoners]),” with Meshell Ndegeocello’s recitation in honor of iconic resistance voices, and gender equity (as expressed in the powerful messages of “The Anthem,” featuring Rapsody and “If Not Now,” featuring Maimouna Youssef).
“There is a tremendous amount of work to be done if we want to make this country actually live up to its as-yet-unrealized aspirations toward true freedom and equality,” adds Aaron Parks. “Activists and organizers have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for a long time, and are absolutely crucial, but there’s an important role for everyone to play in this process. As a member of Social Science, I aim to listen to, learn from, and amplify the voices of those who have been far too often marginalized and unheard. To help to share these stories, these songs of outrage, of hope, of despair, of healing, of love.”